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Intensive Farming and the Environment
Ladybirds are natural predators of aphids and an alternative to pesticides.

Intensive Farming and the Environment

The effect that mankind's activities have had on the environment form a major part of GCSE Geography. This quiz looks at intensive farming - the negative impact it has had on the environment and some possible alternative agricultural practices.

Farming is often viewed as a simple, rural pursuit but, with an increase in modern methods, farming has become an intensive system designed to get the maximum yield out of the minimum land area. Whist we tend to think of intensification as being a modern problem, we have been improving and developing farming practices for tens of thousands of years, ever since hunter gathers began tending to wild plants that they needed as food.

Intensive farming involves the use of fertilisers and pesticides, growing high yield crops, growing crops all year round and keeping animals indoors and in small spaces to limit their movement. This allows a higher yield in crops and meat production, but leads to environmental impacts that may not be clear immediately.

Which of the following is a way that battery farming cattle reduces global warming?
By reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released by cows
By stopping the destruction of trees and plants by cattle
By reducing the need to transport food to the cattle
By reducing the amount of energy the cattle use
Methane gas is the second largest greenhouse gas and it is emitted by cattle. Some studies show that cattle produce more greenhouse gases than transport worldwide. The larger cattle facilities with indoor herds collect the methane and use it to produce energy
One form of biological pest control is to release a natural predator into the area. Cane toads were released in parts of Australia for this reason and have now multiplied so much that they have become a threat to the original ecosystem. Why have Cane Toads been able to expand like this?
People kept the toads as pets, then released them when they were no longer wanted
The huge numbers of beetles on sugar cane crops gave the toads an unlimited food supply
There was a lack of natural predators for the toads, and plentiful food sources with no defences against them
The climate suited the cane toads better than it did the native species
To combat the spread of the cane toads is a massive problem for Australia. There is a call for natural diseases to be released that will reduce cane toad numbers, but these may well harm the native amphibian population
How can providing homes for insects reduce the need for pesticides?
Providing homes for insects provides homes for the crop pests, stopping them coming into the fields
Providing homes for insects gives them better living conditions so they will need to eat less
Providing homes for insects allows natural predators of crop pests to thrive to help keep them under control
Providing homes for insects draws them to gardens and parks rather than to crops in fields
Hedgerows and insect lodges allow biodiversity which helps natural predators to increase and so reduces the need for pesticides
What is battery farming?
Farming animals indoors in small spaces, sometimes only conforming to the legal minimum space
Putting chickens in cages
Allowing animals access to the outside whenever they want
Using genetically modified animals
Farming animals indoors can be done in healthy and humane ways, but there are some serious health and ethical concerns about the space and conditions of battery farming
How did the pesticide DDT affect birds of prey?
It reduced the amount of prey available, leading to a fall in numbers and fewer offspring
It built up in the food chain poisoning the birds of prey
The reduction in harmful insects allowed natural areas to flourish, meaning the birds had more prey
Ingestion of the pesticide reduced the harmful pathogens in the birds of prey
Small birds feeding on crops picked up small doses of DDT, too small to kill them. By catching and eating the small birds, the birds of prey picked up enough small doses to count as a large dose, large enough to be lethal. This is called bioconcentration. DDT was the first chemical to be widely used as a pesticide. However, later tests showed up to 99% of humans had DDT breakdown products in their systems and girls exposed to DDT before puberty were 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer in later life
What might a fungicide be used for?
To remove pests that prey on mushrooms
To remove mould
To kill insect pests on general crops
To remove weeds
When looking at the names fungicide, pesticide or herbicide the name of the target - fungi, pest and herb (plants) - is followed by '-icide'. This means 'to kill' and is also found in other words such as homicide (killing a person) or regicide (killing a king)
Hydroponics is often discussed as a viable alternative to other methods of farming. What is Hydroponics?
Plants are grown in lakes and streams and left to their own devices
Plants are grown in special soils in greenhouses
Plants are grown inverted to allow gravity to assist in their growing, meaning that they need less energy to grow stems
Plants are grown using water containing the minerals required, rather than in soil
Hydroponics and aquaponics are seen as being a practical alternative to growing crops in soil. Without soil, many of the microorganisms that attack plants are removed
Weeding is often done on organic farms to remove plants that might out compete the crop. What is the disadvantage that means this is impractical on intensive farms?
It is too labour intensive
No quality control
People have to walk on the soil and will damage the crop roots
People may remove crops rather than weeds by mistake
The cost of the labour to remove the weeds by hand means that organic crops can cost up to eight times as much as non-organic ones
Aphids often attack orchards and weaken tress, reducing the fruit crop. Which of the following is a method used to control aphids?
Applying a good quality pesticide is the only way to remove the aphids
Destroying the trees and burning all affected leaves, or using of powerful pesticides are the only ways to remove the aphids
Washing them off the plant, applying a pesticide or releasing more ladybirds
Introducing a species of predatory ant, or applying a pesticide
Ladybirds and lacewing are natural predators of the aphids, helping to control the population without the need for pesticides. Ants will sometimes protect and help the aphids - in a way, farming them
How does pesticide use impact biodiversity?
It reduces biodiversity
It only removes harmful pests
It increases biodiversity
It reduces the number of weeds which are a food source for various harmful insects
The use of various pesticides is a suspected reason for colony collapse - a situation in which bee colonies die off. Since a huge portion of the world's food crops rely on bees to pollinate them, without bees there will be a massive reduction in food production
Author:  Ruth M

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